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1st Split Partisan Detachment
Active 11–14 August 1941
Allegiance Yugoslav Partisans
Size Three platoons (planned)
Engagements World War II in Yugoslavia
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Đordano Borovčić

The 1st Split Partisan Detachment (Serbo-Croatian language: Prvi splitski partizanski odred) or the 1st Split Detachment (Serbo-Croatian: Prvi splitski odred) was a unit of the Yugoslav Partisans during World War II. It was composed of volunteers from the city of Split and was created in August 1941, just four months after the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia, and the annexation of Split and most of Dalmatia by the Kingdom of Italy. The unit, composed mostly of young men with little or no fighting experience, planned to relocate to the Dinara mountains to join other Partisan units in fighting the Axis powers.

After initial organizational problems, the weakened detachment reached an area near the village of Košute where they were engaged by Ustaše Militia backed by Italian reinforcements. After a day of fighting and the death of one of their commanders, members of the detachment began to retreat. In the end, the Partisans suffered four killed in action and 25 taken prisoner, while 13 managed to escape. All but three of the prisoners were later executed by firing squad.

Background[edit | edit source]

The Axis powers began their invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941. Just four days later, a puppet state known as the Independent State of Croatia (Serbo-Croatian language: Nezavisna Država Hrvatska – NDH) was declared, encompassing most of modern-day Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of modern-day Serbia. In accordance with the Treaties of Rome signed by the Ustaše leadership of the NDH, a large part of Croatian coastline and islands, including the cities of Split and Rijeka, were to be incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. The low morale of Yugoslav troops in Split and the uncontested advance of the Italian Army through Dalmatia resulted in a number of desertions. Paramilitary formations of the Croatian Peasant Party (Hrvatska Seljačka Stranka, HSS) disarmed soldiers, and by 11 April, there were no organized military formations in Split, and a large number of police and gendarmerie switched their allegiance to the NDH. With Split under the control of the new Ustaše government, the authorities apprehended 300 citizens whom they deemed to be political enemies. On 13 April, members of the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (Serbo-Croatian: Savez komunističke omladine Jugoslavije, SKOJ) broke in to a number of Ustaše weapons depots, stealing dozens of rifles and machine guns, as well as ammunition and hand grenades.[1]

On the evening of 15 April, the first troops of the Italian Army entered Split, signifying the start of their occupation. On 21 April, civil control of Split was passed from the NDH to Italian authorities followed by the raising of the Italian flag over the city. On 18 May, the Kingdom of Italy and the NDH signed the Treaties of Rome, confirming Italian rule of Dalmatia, including Split.[2]

History[edit | edit source]

Formation[edit | edit source]

On 7 August 1941, Pavle Pap-Šilja and Mirko Kovačević-Lala arrived in Split with instructions from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Croatia (Serbo-Croatian: Centralni komitet komunističke partije Hrvatske) to discuss the forming of Partisan detachments to fight the Axis occupiers. In a meeting with the members of the Regional Committee, they agreed that the area of operations of the new resistance detachments should be the Dinara mountains where their fighters could rely on support from the population of the Sinj and Livanjsko field regions as well as other Partisan formations in Bosanska Krajina and Lika. The main problem with the plan was the time needed to organize the detachments and relocate them to the Dinara mountains. Moving to these new fighting areas meant crossing the rough terrain of Zagora, whose population was not supportive of the Partisans. Despite these issues, it was decided that in the next two days the Regional Committee would form seven Partisan detachments, including one from Split.[3][4]

According to the initial plan, on the night of 11 August, the Split Detachment was to move just outside Split and collect weapons that had been captured on 13 April. They would then link up with the Solin Detachment and continue towards Kamešnica, and from there to Otok to meet with the Sinj Detachment. On 8 August, a meeting of Communist Party members and sympathisers was held in a field house between Split and Stobreč to ask for volunteers for joining the detachment. The Split Detachment was formed on 11 August, consisting of 66 members organized in three platoons. The detachment left Split on the same day, commanded by Đordano Borovčić-Kurir and commissar Alfred Santini, and accompanied by Mirko Kovačević-Lala who was in command of all Partisan detachments in Dalmatia.[5][6]

Ambush and aftermath[edit | edit source]

The Split Detachment encountered a problem when the 2nd Platoon got lost and missed a rendezvous with the 1st and 3rd Platoon, which were waiting for them near Mravince. The 2nd Platoon was therefore disbanded while the rest of the detachment continued via Mosor to Dicmo where they were to meet up with their guides. They arrived on the night of 12 August, and upon realizing their guides were not there, decided to continue alone towards Kamešnica. At dawn on 13 August, after a night of wandering after getting lost, the detachment, now without any supplies, camped near the village of Krušvar. In the evening they once again continued towards Kamešnica, and at dawn on 14 August, they camped near the village of Košute, near Trilj. Borovčić tasked two fighters to go to the village and ask the locals for water and directions. After talking to some locals, the fighters were fired upon by a member of the Ustaše Militia from the village. They returned fire, continued back to their camp and notified the others about the incident.[7][6]

File:Streljani borci Splitskog odreda, Ruduša 1941.jpg

Members of the 1st Split Partisan Detachment executed by the Italians and the Ustaše at Ruduša.

Just as they finished their report, the detachment came under fire from the Ustaše Militia. The Ustaše called for help from Sinj, and by 18:00, Italian reinforcements had arrived and began encircling the detachment, engaging them with mortars and light artillery. Outnumbered and facing an enemy with greater firepower, the Partisans planned to hold their positions until evening when they planned to retreat using the cover of dark. At about 20:00, Mirko Kovačević-Lala, one of the most experienced members of the detachment, was killed after being hit by a mortar round, his death having a significant effect on the morale of the remaining fighters. Borovčić's order to retreat soon turned into chaos, as individuals fled the area.[8][6]

Four Partisans died in the fighting, while another three were summarily shot after capture. Twenty-five were captured and taken prisoner, while 13 managed to escape. The 25 that were captured were moved to Sinj, where one of the prisoners was beaten to death. The rest were placed on trial before a special court that was sent from Mostar. Three prisoners were acquitted while the remaining 21 were taken to Ruduša near Sinj, and executed by firing squad.[6]

Commemoration[edit | edit source]

After the war, the 1st Split Partisan Detachment was honored with a monument and a public school was named after Borovčić. In 1962, a monument was erected in Ruduša where the captured members of the detachment were executed. The monument was renovated in 2009 with financial aid from the owners of the RNK Split football club, as several members of the detachment were footballers playing for RNK Split at the time.[9]

Notes[edit | edit source]

Citations

References[edit | edit source]

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